Often, serial killers work alone. That wasn’t the case with Charles Ng and Leonard Lake. The two men were fifteen years apart in age, Lake being the senior of the two. Together these two kidnapped, tortured, raped, and murdered almost thirty people in a shed in the woods.
From the time he was a young child, Charles Chitat Ng showed defiance. While attending school in Hong Kong, his marks were very poor. His parents, Kenneth Ng, and Oi Ping pushed him to do better in his courses. He did not. So much so that one day he set a fire in one of his classrooms. He also often stole from fellow students. He was expelled for the fire. He was also expelled from the boarding school his father sent him to in England in hopes of bettering his behavior. To no avail, Charles Ng continued shoplifting and stealing from classmates.
By the time Ng turned 18 he’d returned to Hong Kong, but attained a student visa for the United States. He had his sights set on California. He enrolled in classes at the College of Notre Dame but only lasted a semester before dropping out. Around this time, Ng met Lake through a wargamer ad in a magazine and they became fast friends.
Ng joined the United States Marine Corps in order to avoid being charged for a hit a run. However, after stealing military weapons from the Kaneohe Marine Corps Air Station in Hawaii he was arrested in 1980 and dishonorably discharged. Ng served 18 months in prison and was released on bail. He met back up with Lake in the Sierra Nevada foothills.
Lake was born in 1945, fifteen years before Ng was. A parental divorce when he was six uprooted him and his siblings to his grandmother’s home. Some blame her for his depravity. She either loved him or was afraid of him. As a child, he forced his younger sisters to pose nude for him to photograph or record amateur pornography. His grandmother didn’t move a muscle. When she saw him killing small animals with chemicals she said nothing.
Lake graduated from Balboa High School in 1964 and enlisted in the United States Marine Corps. He was discharged after two active duty tours in Vietnam for what was called a “delusional breakdown”. Instead of finishing college, he dropped out after one semester at San Jose State University to join the free love hippie movement. When his first wife at the commune found out about his interests, she divorced him. A few years later, however, he met another woman, Claralyn Balazs, at Greenfield Ranch, another hippie commune. She married him and wanted to star in his amateur pornography films. They were married for eight years before he started to want more.
Simultaneously, Leonard Lake was afraid, as many Americans were at the time, of a nuclear war. So, he wanted to build a bunker for survival. After the commune told him it was a no-go, he decided to rent property from his wife’s family. Lake decided that his new “Operation Miranda” was to start over in Humboldt County and use the bunker as a place for his sexual fantasies to life. His first kills probably didn’t involve sex because they were of his younger brother, Donald, and the best man from his wedding, Charles Gunnar. Lake stole Gunnar’s identity and placed an ad in a wargames magazine looking for a new victim.
The Cabin in the Sierra Nevada Foothills
The bunker was 6.5 by 3.5 feet and made of cinderblock. Inside, it was lined with a one-way mirror. Inside of it, the two murdered their victims. Ng was the one who preferred to torture. Lake wanted a sex slave. Together they were monsters, killing women, men, and children ranging from 12-20. Two families died in the bunker, they were Harvey Dubs and Deborah Dubs, who was forced to watch his wive’s assault and murder before enduring his own. Their infant son, Sean was murdered as well. A neighboring family, Lonnie Bond, his girlfriend Brenda O’Connor, and their son, Lonnie Jr., who was a baby, were also murdered. Other victims including Robin Stapley and Paul Cosner.
The tortures and murders and everything they did was recorded on videotape. Most women they would rape, or force into oral sex or orgies. Ng one bragged to a cellmate that he used pliers to rip off nipples, inserted power drills up vaginas, and broke knuckles with vise grips.
All of their victims’ personal belongings, like cash and identification, they kept. Often assuming identities to take out loans and get ‘paid’ for their kills.
The men dissolved the bodies in chemicals, the way Ng had learned to as a child. The rest they burned and spread the bones around the property. Police later found a 45-pound collection of human remains and bones on the property.
Once a Klepto
If Charles Ng didn’t develop sticky fingers as a child and continue throughout his adult life, he and Lake may have gotten away with their killing spree for longer than they did. Police officers were called to a hardware store when Ng attempted to steal a vise on June 2, 1985. He called Lake to bring payment. Lake got there at the same time as the San Francisco police and was asked for his ID. He handed over the ID…of Scott Stapley, who’d been a missing person for weeks. Whose body for sure lay in his backyard. One look in Lake’s car saw his illegal weapon with a silencer. He was immediately arrested and taken to the police station. The second an officer left him alone, he swallowed a handful of cyanide pills and died days before things got ugly.
Ng escaped to Canada for a time. But was once again brought down by attempting to shoplift. This time it was a can of salmon. He was extradited back to the United States in 1991 and was sent to trial. Charles denied any part in the murders, though the courts had video and written proof from Lake’s journals. He received the death sentence for the 11 murders he committed. He sits on Death Row today, in the San Quentin State Prison.